December 13, 2011
By Charles Cuttone
WPS gains Division 1 sanction
U.S. Soccer has granted Women's Professional Soccer Division 1 status for the 2012 season, granting a waiver for the league to play with five teams. The future of the league had been put in doubt over the last few weeks when the status was initially withheld.
|Speculation about the future of women’s Professional Soccer ended on Tuesday, as the league’s Division I status was renewed for 2012.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
"The league gave us their status report for the year in advance of the meeting in Los Angeles. At that time, they had five teams and we didn’t have certain other information we wanted. We weren't able to approve it at that point," said U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati. "Certainly, having a sixth team was important to us. In subsequent meetings with the task force, it became clear to us that the league was quite confident that they will have additional teams for next year (2013), and not just possibilities out there. Quite firm prospects."
According to sources, the league presented documents from several expansion candidates to the federation. While none of the prospective ownership groups has made a formal commitment to the league, U.S. Soccer was evidently satisfied that talks had progressed enough to ensure some future stability.
"At least in one case, they could have had a team that could have played this year (2012), but it would be better for the development of the game for that team and for the league to wait. Trying to get ready in three or four months isn't the best way to launch a season," said Gulati.
In order to be considered for Division 1 sanctioning beyond 2012, WPS must increase the number of teams in the league over the next two seasons to a minimum of six for 2013 and a minimum of eight for 2014. Other conditions have to do with financial requirements, both at the team and league levels, designed to ensure continued operation of the teams through the 2012 season and to ensure the participation of a sixth team for the 2013 season
"We were able to have a structure where we've got some assurances about what the league would look like after this coming year and on that basis, granted a waiver to sanction them with five teams," explained Gulati.
Every professional league sanctioned by U.S. Soccer, including MLS, goes through an annual process where they make presentations to the federation's board. For the past two years, WPS has been granted waivers of conditions on the number of teams. The league did not seek any alternatives, such as dropping down to D2 status.
"The goal of WPS had been to be sanctioned as a Division 1 league," said Gualti. "We've worked out a set of conditions that I think will be met. I think they will add a sixth team, and I am satisfied with that."
Among the conditions being met are the number of teams, the posting of a bond and a framework for guaranteeing additional teams in the future.
" If there is progress and we are moving forward, that's much less of an issue," said Gulati. "What's more important is that we've got a league that's stable. Showing growth and stable ownership will be a huge plus."
The league will operate with five teams in 2012: Western New York Flash, Boston Breakers, Sky Blue FC, Philadelphia Independence and Atlanta Beat. WPS CEO Jennifer O'Sullivan indicated the league has three solid expansion candidates, one on the east coast, one in the Midwest and one on the west coast.
"Our focus is on adding teams as appropriate," she said, pointing out that "We would not want to add one team on the West Coast."
The league has had two teams on the west coast in the past, Los Angeles and Bay Area, but travel costs proved to be too much of a burden.
The league operated with six teams in 2011, but expelled the magicJack franchise after the season, which prompted a lawsuit against the league by the team's owner, Dan Borislow. O'Sullivan said the lawsuit was not an issue in so far as the sanctioning process with U.S. Soccer, but it was the loss of the sixth team that triggered the league's most recent crisis.
Gulati said U.S. Soccer intends to do all it can to help solidify the league, including continuing financial support through a sponsorship agreement.
O'Sullivan says she is currently in discussions with sponsors for 2012, and that some of those potential agreements have been put on the back burner while the sanctioning issue was sorted out.
Likewise, most of the teams have not signed players to contracts for 2012. Gulati indicated some of the U.S. Women's National Team players were waiting for the sanctioning decision before proceeding, although there were no plans in place to have a residency program in place for the Olympic year.